Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz will ask the Legislature for $140,000 to pursue voter fraud for another year despite openly hostile criticism from Senate majority Democrats Tuesday for his two-year investigation.
Schultz, a first-term Republican, has come under fire for using $240,000 in funds from the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to pay for a Division of Criminal Investigation agent to look into voter fraud. HAVA was established after the disputed 2000 presidential election to fund voter education and voter participation efforts.
After nearly two years of investigation, 26 people have been charged and five have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors.
“That’s enough for me to see that we have a problem,” Schultz said. “Twenty-six people cancelling the vote of other Iowans is a big enough problem to keep this going forward.”
Tuesday was the secretary’s second day in a row on the legislative hot seat. Monday, lawmakers grilled Schultz, who is seeking the GOP nomination in Iowa’s U.S. House 3rd District open-seat race, on why three Cerro Gordo County voters had their ballots wrongfully thrown out in the 2012 election. Schultz argued that mistake would not have been discovered without his investigation and that they are now back on the voter rolls.
Democrats on the Senate Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee were skeptical of that and seemed disinclined to grant Schultz’s budget request to use taxpayer dollars to continue his investigation.
“If the outcomes and the data don’t support the evidence or the expenditures, then it’s highly unlikely it would be funded,” said Chairwoman Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids.
That’s the nub of the disagreement. Schultz told legislators that any time voter fraud is committed it cancels an Iowan’s legitimate vote.
When he submits a report next month on the two-year investigation, Schultz said, he anticipates it’s “going to show there’s a problem and this problem may continue.”
“This investigation is not just about the criminal work,” he said, predicting “it will come to show how it can improve the administration of elections.”
She’s withholding judgment, but Mathis is not impressed with the findings so far.
“I don’t consider 26” a large number, she said when asked if the number charged justified the cost of the investigation. “I’m looking at the five (who pleaded guilty) and I don’t consider that a large number considering we’ve spent two years and $240,000 on that. … I don’t consider five people at the end a good expenditure.”
Asked about the three who were prevented from voting, Mathis said she didn’t consider three “a big number either.”
After Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines accused him of making false statements, Republicans on the committee came to Schultz’s defense, with Rep. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, praising his “bold and courageous efforts” to protect Iowa elections.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, a county auditor for six years, called it disingenuous for “people to sit in the cheap seats here and throw darts and arrows at you.”
Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, said the discussion has highlighted a “difference of philosophy among legislators on how this should be handled.”
“I think what’s really been happening today is a case of trying to shoot the mailman,” Guth said.